House targets spy center in Cuba

The Lourdes signals intelligence facility

Spurred by what experts are calling political fallout from the Elian Gonzalez

saga, the House this week passed a bill that would prohibit the rescheduling

of Russia's debt to the United States unless Russia shuts down a massive

listening post just 90 miles from Florida.

For decades, Cuba has hosted one of Russia's largest clandestine signals

intelligence posts in the world. The Lourdes facility, near Havana, enables

Russia to eavesdrop on almost all unencrypted telephone, voice and data

communications in the United States, including those that are relayed by

satellites. The Lourdes facility enabled the Soviet Union to intercept classified

U.S. military plans during the Gulf War, according to a former member of

the Soviet intelligence service, the KGB.

The Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress as early as 1996 that

Russia provides Cuba with as much as $200 million a year in fuel, timber

and spare parts for equipment as compensation for hosting the facility.

However, the Russian/American Trust and Cooperation Act of 2000, introduced

by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), may bring pressure on the Russian

government to curtail support for the facility. The measure (H.R. 4118)

passed the House 275-146 this week.

"For years now, the defense and intelligence community has been pointing

out the danger posed by the Lourdes' listening facility," said Rep. Porter

Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

"Clearly, this capability offers the means to conduct cyberwarfare against

the United States and its people."

The Russian intelligence gathering facilities in Cuba "permit the wholesale

collection of sensitive United States military, diplomatic and commercial

data, and the invasion of millions of Americans' privacy," said Rep. Lincoln

Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who, like Ros-Lehtinen, fled Cuba as a child. "The

Cuban regime, with Russia's help, has the capability to conduct sustained

and systematic information warfare against the United States," he said.

However, intelligence experts characterized the bill as an effort to

put pressure on the Cuban government in the aftermath of the U.S. decision

to return Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba. The action sent shockwaves

throughout the Cuban exile community and increased pressure on politicians

in Florida to prove their support for the anti-Castro movement.

Because the bill was introduced by Ros-Lehtinen, a leading anti-Castro

voice in Congress, "it may be more about Cuba than about signals intelligence,"

an intelligence expert said.

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